During the 1970’s, this car easily set the record for the best-selling sports car of all time with more than 540,000 built. In 2004, it was even ranked as #2 on the list for best sports cars of the 1970’s. What is it you ask? It is the Datsun 240Z. The Datsun 240Z had many obstacles standing in its way to getting designed and built. In the late 1950’s, Yutaka Katayama was hired by the Nissan company to help market their cars. He was the first person to convince Nissan that adding a racing program would be a good way to build the Nissan name, and he was right. This didn’t sit well with his bosses because he went around them to their bosses to pitch the idea, so they decided to give him a job in North America – Datsun Marketing Manager For North America. You see, the market for Japanese cars in America was slim because most people didn’t want to buy Japanese-made cars after World War II, so even though the name Datsun was put on all Nissan cars sold in North America, it was figured that Mr. Katayama would stay out of the lime-light with this challenging position. His bosses couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mr. Katayama had gone to college in the United States and felt that he had a pretty good idea of what Americans wanted when it came to vehicles. In 1961, he convinced Nissan to build one of its first sports cars, the Datsun Fairlady 1500. By the end of the 60’s, the Datsun 1600 Sport and the Datsun 2000 Roadster had also been built, and they were all mildly successful. The problem was, their technology was behind the times. Katayama looked to change that after he was named President of Nissan Motors USA; he wanted to compete with Toyotas release of the 2000GT in 1965 and did that by launching Project-Z. By 1969, the Z-cars had their first design and were beginning production and by 1970, the first Datsun 240Z was sold in the US.
The first version of the 240Z was equipped with a 2.4L single-overhead camshaft, six-cylinder engine that produced 151hp @ 5600rpm with a 7000rpm redline. It also came with disc/drum brakes, a fully-independent suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering as standard options. The car was built to accommodate someone up to 6 feet tall and had a large luggage area that was uncommon in sports cars, at the time. The 240Z was considered a great value with the base price starting at just over $3500, though many cars were sold with after market wheels and tires and other options to mark up the price to closer to $5500. Nissan could get away with these mark-ups because there was such a huge demand for the vehicles. Through 1972, the car was only offered in a 5-speed manual transmission, but as of 1973, a 3-speed automatic option was added.
Due to emission regulations, the performance of the 240Zs were being effected. They were only producing 129hp @ 6000rpm, so in 1974, Nissan decided to build the 260Z, which had a 2565cc that produced 162hp @ 5600rpm if it was not regulated by California’s smog equipment; if it was “smogged”, then in produced 139hp @ 5200rpm. During this year, the 260Z 2+2 was also made to allow for 4 passengers to fit into the vehicle. This build allowed an extra foot of space in the rear of the vehicle, but was typically used for extra luggage storage instead of passenger space. This was Nissan’s first step toward making the Z-cars more luxurious instead of sporty.
In 1975, Nissan stopped producing the 260Z in the United States, though the model was produced for a few more years in other countries, and started producing the Datsun 280Z. This model offered a 2753cc engine with electronic fuel injection that produced 149hp @ 5600rpm. It was also built in a 2+2 model and ran through 1978, when all first generation Z-cars production was halted.